Does My Dog Know How Long I’ve Been Gone?


A brown Labrador looking intuitively at the camera

We’re not stupid. Of course we know how long you’ve been gone. Why? Are you trying to find out if you can justify your long bouts out with your human friends while we sit and stare out the window waiting for you to return?

Well, you can’t. So just come home.

Studies suggest that your dog can comprehend and conceptualize time for up to 2 hours. However, after those first 2 hours, the data is unclear, as previously benchmarked indicators are unable to validate if your dog is aware you’ve been gone for 8 hours or just 2.

Okay, there’s your science but here’s your truth: regardless of what this time comprehension you’re talking about means, 2 hours is a really really really long time for me to be away from my beautiful humans.

Disclaimer: The Can My Dog articles contain information based on the individual research and opinions of the author of the site – who just so happens to be a dog. How you utilize the information given is completely up to you. Proceed at your own risk.

Warning: Philosophical Dog Thoughts. Enter at Your Own Risk

Does anybody truly understand time?

I mean, what is it, really?

I’m inclined to believe that time happens all at once but we can’t comprehend it this way so our brains break it down into a linear timeline.

It’s like a gigantic book is dropped on our heads but this hurts and we can’t read it that way, so we have to open it slowly and flip through it one page at a time before we understand what the book was about.

If you continue to read my comprehensive report detailing the concept of dog time, you agree to adhere to my dog policies and ideologies.

Your Dog Has Episodic Memory Capabilities

What did you just call me?

Episodic memory is a super cool Avenger-esque power that dogs have. Humans have this too but humans didn’t realize they shared this cognitive form of inception with their canine counterparts.

Typical.

Humans, right?

Anyway, episodic memory allows us to understand differing situations and not expect things that are out of the ordinary based on a particular scenario.

If you’re curious at to what other super powers your dog has that you never knew about, then click this link.

Let me explain.

Episodic memory has to do with context, associations, and awareness. In short, it’s the theory that dogs know their humans aren’t going to show up out of nowhere at their doggy day camp, because this would be completely out of situational context. You’re not typically there, so your dog doesn’t expect for you to be.

This is why we don’t sit and cry all day long while you’re at work (once we’re use to your work schedule). We know you’re not suppose to be here during the day, so we learn to be cool with it.

Side note: Did you know that rats have cognitive capacity for episodic memory, too? Don’t believe me? Click here and let’s nerd out together.

The Swedish Study: Dogs and Time

Back in 2011, way before I was born, Therese Rhen and Linda Keeling put their brilliant minds to the test in attempts to further explore the time conceptualization capacity of dogs.

Basically, they wanted to see how dogs reacted to their humans based on the amount of time they were separated from them.

If they reacted differently utilizing predetermined factors such as tail wag speed and kisses, these benchmarks would be closely related to the amount of time the humans were gone.

Did that make sense? I feel like that didn’t make sense.

Your honor, allow me to restate the theory, if it pleases the court.

I need to stop watching old episodes of How to Get Away with Murder. I want to be Analise Keeting when I grow up though. Who’s with me?

I digress. Back to the Swedish study, relative theories, and other stuff.

If your dog’s tail speed and kiss intensity was altered in any way as human time away increased, then this would be a sign indicating that dogs understood the difference in their human only being gone 30 minutes versus their human being gone for 2 hours.

In theory, your dog would show more excitement with the longer bouts of time, thus generalizing their cognitive awareness and appreciation of time.

Cool, right?

Here’s the kicker though.

After 2 hours away, the data is discernible. It was near impossible to differentiate between a dog’s excitement for their human’s return after 2 hours compared to their excitement to see them after 4 hours or more.

Here’s my response to that.

Two hours is a very long time. So is 4 hours. Anything over a brief nap and your dog will be ecstatic to see your cute little human face.

If you want to go even deeper, read my piece on whether or not your dog will be sad if you die.

So, Can Dogs Tell Time, or Not?

Yes. We can.

We understand the concept of time, only we don’t have to use those fancy bracelet things you humans have strapped to your wrists.

Dogs have an internal clock.

Works like a charm.

Okay, so we don’t count the whole hour / minute / second thing that you humans do. We choose to perceive the concept of time differently than our less evolved human counterparts. 🙂

Quite frankly, we couldn’t care less about that ticking timer contraption. Dogs have circadian rhythms that we use to gather a general sense of time awareness.

For instance, your dog knows that when the sun turns to moon, time has passed.

We get it.

Dogs know when it’s breakfast time.

They know when it’s dinner time.

Your dog knows when it’s bed time.

Dogs know when it’s time to get up.

And they know when it’s time to go on their walk.

Dogs grasp consistency and generalized time. It’s just that simple. Their conceptual awareness of time and space is much different than humans because they’re much better at seeing the whole picture.

Observing time the way dogs do, is better for the mind. They live in the moment. Truly and unapologetically in the moment.

We want nothing to do with your hurried, rushed, stressed way of life. Perhaps this blog should have been titled: How can humans begin to conceptualize time the same as their dog?

Now there’s a header.

Conclusive Ideologies from the Smartest Dog in the World

Who me? You’re far too kind.

Here’s my synopsis: Yes, we know when you leave us. No we don’t like it. Why don’t you just take us with you every single place you go and then none of this will be relevant.

Have you ever seen one of those videos of a dog seeing their human for the first time in a long time after being deployed? Think of that the next time you don’t think we have the mental capacity to understand time.

Here, spoiled humans. I’ve made it easy for you. Click the play button thingy.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Just keep Living, Loving, Laughing, and Scratching our bellies often.

Callie, tissue!

Love you guys,

JTB

P.S. If you’re new to this world, you may want to check out my Ultimate Guide for First Time Dog Parents. It’s a great reference to get you started on this journey.

This article has been reviewed by our Editorial Board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our Editorial Policies.

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